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On Loving Muslims

Annie Laurent - published on 01/28/13

It is incumbent upon Christians to love Muslims as God loves them, seeing them with benevolence and clarity

When we see violent acts committed in the name of Islam, we can be tempted to reject Muslims. Yet this attitude is unfair under the natural law that ordains friendship between men, and contrary to the requirement of Christian charity which commands us to love all men created in the image of God. Rejecting all Muslims as if they were all equally fanatics would mean denying them the ability to exercise their freedom as human beings.

It is incumbent upon Christians to love Muslims as God loves them; nevertheless, love does not preclude a critical judgment on Islam. How, then, can we love Muslims? By understanding their world, respecting them, and also by taking an interest in their eternal salvation.

When faced with violent acts committed in the name of Islam, we can be tempted to reject Muslims. Yet this attitude is unfair under the natural law that ordains friendship between men.

Friendship and brotherhood among men are inscribed in human nature. Man was made to love and be loved. He cannot be happy by feeding hatred against his brother in humanity, even if his fellow man is violent or follows principles that advocate violence. Rejecting all Muslims indiscriminately by enclosing them in a predetermined framework would mean implicitly denying them the ability to be free and therefore have the fullness of human dignity.

Rejecting Muslims would also be contrary to what the Bible teaches and the requirement of Christian charity, which commands us to love every man created in the image of God.

All human beings, male and female, were created "in the image and likeness of God" (Genesis 1:26 ff.); this reality is the defining feature of what makes us persons. Thus, in the eyes of God, everyone has equal dignity, regardless of their condition or religion.

In Jesus Christ, God revealed himself as the God who is Love (1 Jn 4:16). While he hates evil and all that leads to it, God does not have a selective or preferential love. His charity is gratuitous and equal for all: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt 5:44-45). By this divine precept, Jesus cuts off access to "theocratic hatred," which involves hating God's enemies (real or supposed) so as to be able to kill them in his name.  

Jesus came for the poor and sinners, "not to judge the world but to save the world" (Jn 3:17). Christians – children of God by the grace of baptism – are called in turn to serve their brothers by being "salt of the earth and light of the world" (Mt 5:13-14), forgiving them and loving them freely.

Christians cannot shirk this call that invites them to conversion of heart. It also invites them to be more like Christ: not only must we "love others as yourself" (Lev 19:18, Mark 12:31, etc.), but we must also love others as Christ himself loves them (cf. Jn 15:12-13).

Loving Muslims does not preclude a critical judgment on Islam.

In the Koran, God reveals nothing of his mystery of love. Transcendent, devoid of immanence, "impenetrable" and "inaccessible," "the God of the Koran is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God with us" (John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Plon-Mame, p. 152). He remains distant from his human creatures, indifferent to what happens to them. If he deigns to love men, his love is conditioned by their commitment and loyalty to Islam. The God of the Koran makes a clear distinction between Muslims and "others," whom it not recommended to love:

"Those who accept God, His Prophet, and believers as Masters make up the People of God, and they are the ones who will be victorious" (5:56).
"O believers, do not take Jews and Christians as friends. They are friends of each other. Whoever takes them for friends eventually becomes one of them. God will not guide the wicked" (5:51).

Taking a clear look at the founding texts of Muslims (Koran, Sunna, biography of Muhammad) may bring about legitimate fright, shock, or disturbance, and daring to ask Muslims about these points is not a lack of charity towards them. Rather, it means we regard them as adults capable of reflection and openness to the truth.

Admitting that Islam is an existential challenge to Christian or secular societies does not mean that we reject Muslims. Nevertheless, the answer to this challenge should not be ideological in nature (e.g., secularism), just as it should not be used to reject people or to blackmail them into reciprocity. Only the practice of the virtues, especially righteousness and spiritual and moral strength – the weapons preached by the Gospel – can solve the problems that Islam poses.

Having a clear awareness of the inestimable treasure that is the Christian heritage does not mean we despise Muslims. We should not pretend, therefore, to see Islam as a doctrine of equal value to Christianity.

How can we love Muslims?

Christian charity compels us to respect Muslims and to take an interest in their eternal salvation.

The Muslim world, which does not have the knowledge of a God who loves each man with an infinitely merciful love, and which is also torn by sectarian divisions, suffers dramatically from a lack of love and consideration.

It is incumbent upon Christians to love Muslims as God loves them, and so to ban attitudes that may arise too quickly, such as invective, mockery of their religious practices, condescension and contempt, and even hatred.

Finally, loving Muslims also means taking an interest in their eternal salvation and not forgetting that, like all other men, they have the right to know the true God, and thus to attain salvation (cf. Tm 2:4 et seq.). We must not begin with an unjustified assumption that Muslims would, in principle, be impervious to the Gospel teaching.

About the Author:
Annie Laurent,
Ph.D. in Political Science,
specialist in the Middle East,
expert at the Special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East in 2010 .

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